As I am a fan of both science fiction and the Beatles, you might assume that I'd like a sci fi YA novel that takes its name from a Beatles song. You would be correct in that assumption. Although I don't really like that particular Beatles song, Beth Revis has penned an exciting dystopian-style science fiction which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Across the Universe centers around two main characters: Amy, a teenager who has been cryogenically frozen so that she can travel with her parents to colonize a new planet (which is so far away that it will take 300 years to get there), and Elder, a teenager who is being trained under the current leader, Eldest, to lead the people on board the spaceship Godspeed, which is the same ship on which Amy and her parents are traveling--as cargo.. The story is told in first person, present tense (which has recently become one of my favorite voices), alternating between the perspectives of Amy and Elder. At first, I was annoyed by the switching of perspectives--it slowed the plot (at first), and was otherwise just slightly confusing. After finding the rhythm, however, I was able to follow and greatly enjoy the story that Revis told through her two main characters. It added to her story by telling it from both perspectives, and it was interesting how she handled different situations through those two perspectives.
When Amy is unfrozen (and nearly killed in the process) fifty years ahead of schedule, her existence threatens the ideal society that Eldest has maintained, but Elder befriends her. Together they try to figure out who is trying to unfreeze and potentially murder those who have been frozen, and also discover the truth behind the lies that have governed the ship for decades.
Honestly, for me, it's hard to go wrong with science fiction, but it is possible. I enjoy science fiction only if the characters are believable and interesting (even if they're aliens, they've got to be "real"). Revis' characters were brilliant, three-dimensional, and "perfectly flawed." I could see their behaviors, attitudes, and actions as being something anyone might display, given their circumstances. In all honesty, one of her villains was slightly over-the-top, but the gradual development and revelation of this character was one of the more interesting aspects of the book. I especially appreciated that Revis' darker characters showed great humanity, while her protagonists displayed believable flaws. The character development made this story all that more enjoyable.
I was also impressed by the mystery she unraveled throughout the story. There were a few things I had guessed, but she managed to genuinely surprise me in the end. The story ended on an open-ended, yet satisfying note. I am looking forward to reading the sequel, A Million Suns, which I already have on reserve from the library! I just wish the third book were coming out sooner than next year, but it will be exciting to have to wait for a book again. I haven't really done that since Harry Potter.
I will caution that there is some profanity and a lot of mildly graphic sexual imagery in this book. I am extremely sensitive to graphic imagery in writing because the words never leave my head. The imagery in this book was not enough to bother or disturb me. The sexual references served to illustrate some of the problems of the society aboard Godspeed. While I'm not sure the references and imagery were absolutely necessary, they definitely did not detract from the story in any way. I would also caution that there is some depressing material in the story that might upset or disturb younger readers.
I was pleased and intrigued to find that there were some references to Amy's character having faith in God, although I'm not sure that her choices and lifestyle would always reflect that. The point was made a couple of times that Elder (and none of those living on the ship--who were not cryogenically frozen) did not believe in God. A very minor conflict between Amy and Elder was noted in Across the Universe, and I'm interested in knowing if and if so, how Revis will expound on this conflict in the sequels. I doubt she mentioned it without having some sort of purpose for it later--but we'll see!
I would definitely recommend Across the Universe to older teenagers and adults, but would encourage younger readers to wait a few years. This was an excellent, fun, and thought-provoking book!